Opinion » Cybernaut


Feeling obsolete



At home I have an old Apple eMac that I've upgraded as much as possible, but its days are numbered. It won't run Firefox 3.0 - I'd need to upgrade the operating system and the processor - and as a result my browser won't do a lot of the stuff I need. For example, it no longer works well with Wesabe (www.wesabe.com), which upgraded its website recently to work with the new Firefox.

Firefox 2.0 - which I had to search everywhere for after I accidentally upgraded to 3.0 without realizing it was going to be incompatible - simply does not support some of the features and plug-ins that websites are now using. In general the PowerPC G3, G4 and G5 processor line for Macs are rapidly becoming obsolete as new software is designed to work with Intel chips.

My work computer, a newer Apple iMac, is also becoming obsolete without an operating system upgrade. It's also a PowerPC G5, living on borrowed time.

I'm running Tiger at work (at home I'm still on Panther), but I need Leopard for so many things. Last week I tried to demo a free vector-based drawing program called Inkscape but the new version only works with Leopard, and older versions require the support of another piece of software that would require a massive software downgrade. I also tried to download the Safari 4.0 beta, but again that's for Leopard only. Sometime this year Apple will release Snow Leopard, the next OSX update, and I'll be a little further behind the curve. Same goes for new versions of iTunes, the new Open Office, and other third party software and plug-ins. I don't upgrade anything anymore if I want it to work.

While it pays to keep current with your operating system - or should I say it "costs?" - I'm concerned with a general approach that rewards early adopters and leaves everyone else behind. I know it would be hard for Apple to continuously upgrade software for a wide range of processors and operating systems out there, but there used to be a little more time between state-of-the-art and obsolescence. I also know that the software has to be tweaked to take advantage of upgrades in hardware, so the people who buy the newest, best-est systems can get better performance. But, really.

Unless software companies like Apple can come up with a way to upgrade software that doesn't make older versions completely obsolete I think they could stand to slow down a bit. People will spend a little bit of money and effort to keep their systems up to date, but since the hardware itself has a maximum life of about three to four years for laptops and five years for desktops you can't really blame people for being slow on the update. Why upgrade your operating system for $150 or more right now when you could put that money towards a new computer next year with the right operating system pre-installed? It's even harder to justify the expense when your core processor is on its way to obsolescence anyway. All you're doing is buying yourself a little more time.

There are millions of people out there who still have analog televisions with rabbit ears, or are driving 20-year-old cars. So why do software companies assume that people are ready to jump on every new update that comes along? Especially when there's no discernable benefit for the average user who only needs a computer for e-mail, web and word processing?

I appreciate that this is a fine balance. There are lots of buyers who want the best and care a lot if one operating system loads five seconds faster than another, and they are generally the software company's best customers. But I seriously doubt they're the majority.

One billion apps can't be wrong

Although there are a lot of companies selling apps these days, Apple's iTunes model is the most successful by far. Last week the company announced the download of their billionth app, rewarding a 13-year-old with a $10,000 iTunes gift card, a MacBook Pro, and all kinds of other goodies.

Nine zeros. One thousand million. A billion is an impressive number, even if it does include both free and paid downloads.

To put that number into perspective, the iTunes App store has only been open nine months. That means 3.5 million apps were downloaded per day, or roughly 33 applications per user (iPhone and iPod touch sales combined). More impressive, the number of available Apps was low at first - just 500 at launch - and sales likely started slowly as well. Most of those downloads have probably taken place in the last three months, while some popular apps have been downloaded between one and two million times.

At this point no other phone comes close when it comes to the sheer number or variety of apps available. To date Apple has approved more than 20,000 apps and the number is growing all the time.

By way of comparison, the Google Android Market - iTunes chief competitor until the Palm Pre debuts - only had about 800 apps available in February at four months in operation.

To be fair, not all of Apple's Apps are useful. A quick search of the iTunes store for "fart" turned up thousands of titles, as did a search for ring tones. But I have drooled enough over some apps to seriously consider buying an iPod Touch, like iShred LE: Electric Guitar, the new pocket version of Myst, and the Wesabe App. Maybe for Christmas?